Book of Mormon Internal Evidence (23B): Diverse Writing Styles

Anti-LDS antagonists, after a superficial reading of the Book of Mormon, sometime conclude that that there was only one author – Joseph Smith. A casual reader of the Book of Mormon could easily reach that conclusion. Likewise, a superficial reading of the King James Version would lead a casual reader to the same conclusion about the Bible.  

When I did my original in-depth literary analysis of the Book of Mormon, it was obvious that there were several writers. * Careful readers reach the same conclusion.

Nephi’s Distinctive Style

The Book of Mormon claims to have of four major writers, Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni.

 As we analyze that claim, we need to be mindful that a translator’s style casts his shadow over the original text. However, the translator’s shadow does not completely eclipse it. 

Apostrophe is characteristic of Nephi’s writing style. Apostrophe is the literary device of speaking directly to someone who is not present or something that cannot answer, like an inanimate object. Here are a few examples: “O ye Gentiles.” (2 Ne. 29:5) “Awake my soul!” (2 Ne. 4:28) “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me in the robe of thy righteousness.” (2 Ne. 4:33)

Personification is also characteristic of Nephi’s style.  Personification is the literary device of giving human attributes to something that is not a person. When Nephi writes that his heartweeps” and “groans,” and that his souldroops” and “lingers,” he is using personification. (2 Ne. 4:16-35)  Nephi refers to the earth “groaning,” and the church of the devil as the “mother” of abominations. (1 Ne. 19:20; 1 Ne. 14)

Metaphor is also distinctive of Nephi’s style. Metaphor is the literary device that makes a comparison that is not literally true.  Nephi compares the hearts of the wicked to “flint,” and says they are “ripe” in iniquity. (2 Ne. 5:21; 7:7; 15:25; 1 Ne. 17:35) He counsels to righteous to “feast on the words of Christ,” and adds that they “must be led up as calves of the stall.”(1 Ne. 22:24) According to Nephi, the truthcutteth,” and God’s wrath will be “poured” upon the wicked. (1 Ne. 16:2; 2 Ne. 22:16)

Nephi’s vocabulary is distinctive. He used about 578 words found nowhere else in the Book of Mormon.  Nephi uniquely and exclusively used the phrase, “my soul delighteth . . .” over eleven times. (2 Ne. 4:15-16; 11:2; 6:25; 13:31)

Nephi is the only writer to use the phrase “isles of the sea.” Interestingly, Nephi referred to their new home in the promised land as the “isles of the sea.” After all, they arrived after a long sea voyage. Once they had lived here for a while, and did some exploring, they realized they were on a continent, and the use of “isles of the sea” faded away.

Nephi is the only writer who referred to “dwelling” or “living” in a tent. After Nephi left his comfortable home in Jerusalem, he repeatedly mentioned living in a tent about 25 times.  “My father dwelt in a tent.” (1 Ne. 2:15) Realistically, over time, living in a tent became less unusual, and the references to living in a tent faded and then completely disappeared.

Nephi used “Messiah” over thirty times, whereas the other writers only used it only once.

Nephi’s writings contain six times more words ending in “-eth” than any other book.  Over half of all “-eths” are in the books of First and Second Nephi. Over half of the “wherefores” are in the first forth of the Book of Mormon.

And it came to pass,” the phrase which Mark Twain found so annoying, and which, if deleted would reduce the Book of Mormon to a pamphlet, is used more frequently by Nephi than any other writer, and six times as frequently as Mormon and Moroni. 

In short, the writing style of Nephi in the first fourth of the Book of Mormon is unique and distinctive from the other writers.

Jacob’s Distinctive Style

Jacob’s style is also unique distinctive.  He used rhetorical questions more frequently than Nephi, and three times more often than Mormon.  Exclamations, indicative of emotion, are used more by Jacob than any other writer and twice as often as Moroni.

Jacob used “and it came to pass,” less frequently than Nephi, but four times as often as Mormon and Moron. Notice how the repetitive and somewhat annoying phrase “and it came to pass,” was popular with the early writers, but not so much with the later writers.  This also realistic.  Mormon is tried to reduce the records to 1/100th for the abridgement, and Moroni was running out of time and resources.  For them, “and it came to pass,” seemed superfluous

The Small Plates vs. the Abridgment

There are vast, and obvious, stylistic differences between the small plates and the abridgment. 

The small plates were written in the first personI” and “we.” The abridgement was written in the third personhe,” “she,” and “they.”

The abridgment uses “stop,” whereas the small plates use “cease.”  The abridgement uses “married,” whereas the small plates use “took to wife.”

 “History” is mentioned several times in the small plates, but never in the rest of the Book of Mormon. “Infirmities” is mentioned in the abridgment, but not in the small plates.  “Gall of bitterness” is used multiple times in the abridgment, but not in the small places.

Jew” is used over 70 times in the first fourth of the Book of Mormon and less than 10 times in the last three fourths. This makes sense because Nephi and Jacob were “Jews” from Jerusalem, but Mormon and Moroni were not.

Mormon’s Distinctive Style

The most obvious and distinctive feature the Mormon’s writing is his frequent interruptions of the narrative.

He interrupts the ongoing story to introduce himself.

He interrupts to “hint” of future events (foreshadowing/prophesy). “And more of this Gadianton shall be spoken hereafter.” (Hel. 2:12

He interrupts to points out completed events (fulfillment). 

He interrupts his interruptions to return to the story. “Now we will return again to the Amalicites.” (Al. 3:1-17)

He made dozens of editorial comments. He wanted to make certain the reader did not overlook important points. These comments are often preceded by the phrase, “and thus we see.” (Mos. 2:1; 23:23; Al. 6:5-6; 17:13-15; 24:19; 27:12-18; etc.)

Like the other writers, Mormon has a distinctive vocabulary.

Mormon is the only writer who used “tradition” or “tradition of their fathers.”  He used those words almost four dozen times. This also makes sense since he is doing an abridgment and he has the overall “big picture” of the traditions.

Mormon’s unique words include: “bands of death,” “compelled,” and “ferocious.”  

Mormon often used similes. There are metaphors connected with “like” or “as.” He used similes three times more often than any other writer.

He often used gerundial phrases like “returning thanks unto God,” more than any other writer

He used infinitive phrases “to –”, such as “to write a description.” More than any other writer.

Anther unique feature of Mormon’s writing is his clarifying language and correcting mistakes.  You cannot erase mistakes on engraved metal plates.  Mormon had the huge task of abridging thousands of “pages” of plates.  To err is human.

Mormon was aware of his mistakes. In the Title Page he comments “if there are faults,” they are the mistakes of men. He promised the readers that if they did not condemn the “imperfections which are in it [abridgment]” they “shall know of great things these.” (Mor. 8:12, 17; Eth. 12:23-26)

 Moroni opined that any mistakes by his father were the probably the result of engraving the record in an unfamiliar shorthand language. (Mor. 9:32-33) Moroni defended his father’s trivial mistakes, “condemn … neither my father because of his imperfections.” ((Mor. 9:31)

It appears that Mormon made several very minor, but indelible mistakes requiring corrections or clarifications in the abridgment. (See: Al 1:15; 36:14; 50:32; 32:16; 17:18; 30:9; 54:5; 53:10; Mos. 8:17; 7:8)

Many of the corrections are preceded with the phrase, “or rather.” “Now behold, the people who were in the land Bountiful, or rather Moroni.” (Al 50:26) “They buried their weapons of peace, or they buried their weapons of war, for peace.” (Al 24:19) “They stood before the king, and were permitted, or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions he should ask them” (Mos. 7:8)

There are similar examples in the abridgment, but only in the abridgment. Mormon is the only writer than used the expression, “or rather,” and the only one who needed to. (Hel. 3:33; Al 6:3; Mos. 7:8)

Moroni’s Distinctive Style

Moroni is the last writer in the Book of Mormon. During his brief abridgment he digressed into sermonizing several times, to prove his points.  (Eth. 8:20-22; 2:913; 12)

Moroni distinctively returned from these editorial interruptions by using the phrase, “now I proceed with my record.” (Eth 2:13; 8:20; 12:6-41; 13:1; 14:25, etc.)

While Nephi began his record with hope for the future, Moroni concluded his record with depressing elegy. (Mor. 8: 3-5; Mori. 1:1,4)

Moroni’s vocabulary is also distinctive.  “Begat” is only used in the Book of Ether.  Moroni used “behold” more often then the other writers.  Moroni used rhetorical questions more than any other writer.


In summary, a careful reading of the Book of Mormon proves that it was written by several writers. The Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith, but it was created by Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni.  These diverse and distinctive writing styles are not something Joseph Smith could have faked.  

*Since my analysis of the Book of Mormon in the 1970’s, several scholars have utilized computer word prints to examine whether the Book of Mormon is authored by one person, or several.  Those computer word print studies about distinctive writing styles and multiple authors, confirmed my research. 

(See: Larsen,  Rencher, and Layton, “Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Word Prints,” BYU Studies (Spring 1980), 225–51; John L. Hilton, “On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited,ed. Noel B. Reynolds, (Provo, Utah : F.A.R.M.S., 1997), John L. Hilton, “On Verifying Word Print Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship,” BYU Studies (1990); Larsen and Rencher, “Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints,” Book of Mormon Authorship, (1982))

(Additional Sources: George Reynolds, A Complete Concordance of the Book of Mormon (1901); Harris, Book of Mormon Messages and Evidences; Burgon, An Analysis of Style Variations in the Book of Mormon, BYU Thesis, 1958)

(Other Articles: or

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s